JON MEACHAM, WRITER: Theology and religion for people.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: You know I`m going to pause it there. They have heard that, the religion of the left and the right. I totally get what you`re saying, and it is something and that has been -- that`s a concern, that`s a concern. That`s why you don`t get compromised. Jon Meacham, I`m short on time. I wish I wasn`t. Always good to talk with you, sir. Have a great Merry Christmas to you. That`s all we have for tonight. We`ll be back Monday with more Meet the Press Daily and if it`s Sunday to MEET THE PRESS on NBC, but "The Beat" with Ari Melber starts right now. Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. I actually have breaking news here. Its official party has replaced theology. It`s official. I`m getting that from the Newsroom.
TODD: You know what, if you just went on social media, it would be easy to come to that conclusion.
MELBER: I`m just telling you, when we get the breaking news, I want to bring it right to you and Meacham.
TODD: Appreciate it, brother.
MELBER: But it was a fascinating discussion we`re listening to here. I look forward to hearing more of that. Jon always brings a lot to the table and I know you`re going to be busy this weekend, sir.
TODD: All right buddy.
MELBER: Thank you, Chuck. And thanks to you at home for joining us on this week which featured of course this historic impeachment vote, this Democratic debate and new sparring over how to put the President on trial. It has been a lot and we have that in mind for tonight`s show. So, let me tell you what we`re going to do.
First, we will dig into the trial. Donald Trump has really been running from his whole life. We have a special report on the witnesses that could be crucial to the case. That`s later this hour. Then we`re going to take a step back from all of this, he was one of the most legendary prosecutors alive, a former SDNY U.S. Attorney, who actually prosecuted the Jimmy Hoffa linked mobsters depicted in that new Irishman movie. He`s also investigated White House scandals. It`s his debut on The Beat. That`s tonight.
And then by the end of the hour, we have a special interview with a musician debuting his new work at a top museum. That`s something a little different later on. So, it`s not a typical week and this maybe won`t be a typical show.
Well, Speaker Pelosi is playing hardball with Trump and Mitch McConnell. The fact is the preparations have already formally begun for the indignity facing Trump in the New Year. This will be a trial on his conduct and his fitness for office. So, just think about that because it can be easy to forget amidst all these sniping that Donald Trump not only lost this week but just the fact of going on trial may have him feeling like quite the constitutional loser in January.
His team already prepping, I could show you here Trump`s White House counsel leaving Capitol Hill today because they already began walk through and sort of soft rehearsals for where they will defend the President on the Senate floor. They say McConnell invited them to start getting the lay of the land and take a look at what Trump`s aides told NBC News about expectations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC UELAND, POLITICAL ADVISER: As I think the President`s made very clear. He wants the opportunity to make his case fully and robustly to the Senate as well as to the American people. And so, we`re working with Leader McConnell as well as other Senate Republicans as we work through that process, how that would look and how that would unfold on the Senate floor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That is what they call a walk and talk. And as we`ve reported, no matter what deal McConnell will claim to have in January or when this whole thing starts, senators can demand votes to add evidence and witnesses throughout the trial. Pelosi meanwhile withholding these articles as Congress leaves town which makes the earliest possible date for the trial January 7th. And there are basically two levels to Pelosi`s approach.
On procedure, the Senate may not care much about rushing her. That`s what McConnell insists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (D-KY): I`m not sure what leverage there is in refraining from sending us something we do not want. Other House Democrats seem to be suggesting they`d prefer never to transmit the articles. I am with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I am with me and he`s not just trolling that may be fine with him. But on the other level, there is strategy. Pelosi may be deploying her knowledge of Trump to draw on his reported desire for a flashy testimony filled trial, his belief is apparently it would vindicate him and in a political environment where everyone is off and on to the next thing, Pelosi has literally held Washington`s attention by delaying the time when McConnell may argue that he becomes the person in the driver`s seat. And that keeps the focus on her argument that Trump abused his power that he should face a trial with witnesses, and he should be kicked out of office, which is a lot as arguments go.
She`s also moving forward on governing backing this bipartisan trade deal this week and formally inviting Trump to present the State of the Union regardless of when the trial starts. That`s February 4th. Tonight, we can report Trump`s already accepted that part and that apparently boxes him into a plan even if he is coming fresh off the trial or within the trial note to President Bill Clinton gave a State of the Union address while his Senate trial was in progress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While Mr. Clinton`s address was about the State of the Union. The focus for many was the state of his presidency.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s still hard to believe that this is a man whose job is in jeopardy, his fate in the hands of many in this room.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans I stand before you tonight to report that the state of our union is strong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Living History. We turn now to former federal prosecutor John Flannery who has been counselor to several congressional probes. "The Daily Beast," Margaret Carlson who has reported out many of these stories and making his debut on THE BEAT. "BuzzFeed" reporter Hayes Brown who has covered the intersection of foreign policy and impeachment. Good evening, everyone. Happy Friday.
JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Good evening. Happy Friday.
MELBER: It`s still Happy Friday. It`s Frida, right. TGIF around here. John, your view of Pelosi`s strategy which focuses more on dealing with the way 2019 works than the technical role of the Senate trial?
FLANNERY: Well, I think she knows how to read the psychology of Trump and we`re all aware that she knew that Trump was at war with McConnell who wants to protect the re-election of his members. And so, he wants as little as possible. So, I think that you also have to consider there is like one day left in the House schedule. So, you really can`t fault her much for two weeks given you have the statement in which McConnell intimated that if it came it would-be dead-on arrival.
He would find a way to dismiss it. He didn`t say it, but he took it right up to the water`s edge to say that. So, we sort of have a situation in which like an Alice in Wonderland. He wants a verdict without any evidence. And that`s going to put a lot of pressure on the members of the Senate, I think.
MELBER: Which character--
FLANNERY: And so, I think--
MELBER: Is he in Alice in Wonderland.
FLANNERY: Red Queen, I think, unfortunately, most appropriate, don`t you think? It was a verdict that--
MELBER: But does that hold on. Does that make the impeachment articles, the rabbit because ultimately, he`s always late?
FLANNERY: No, I don`t think.
MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, "THE DAILY BEAST": Rabbit hole.
MELBER: Rabbit hole, Hayes is new here and he`s already looking to get out of here.
FLANNERY: But the--
CARLSON: Hayes just wait for the musical interlude.
HAYES BROWN, REPORTER, "BUZZFEED": Oh gosh.
FLANNERY: I see. This is bad. OK. I`m really sorry I started that.
MELBER: You know I will go John and then Margaret to get back, because I got us off track. That`s on me.
FLANNERY: OK. I thought it was fun. The next step I think is that when we come back. I hope they spend the two weeks writing that kind of paper that attacks the Senate. The Senate for failing its constitutional obligation. We have a biased leader in the Senate. We have at least four different senators who receive contributions from the President. Their gardener earns Tillis and Perdue. We have one Senator Johnson who is a witness in the case, and we have a Vice President who is implicated in the charges.
What are they doing on this panel that should be a motion either to the justice or it should be beforehand? I think when they tender the articles of impeachment to the Senate sometime in January, I think that they have to also file the paper that make these points and others including the witnesses they want.
MELBER: Yes. Let me get Margaret in. But I think those are interesting points.
CARLSON: Ari, McConnell says that Pelosi has no leverage. McConnell handed Pelosi leverage by being so outspoken, brazen about how he was going to treat the trial. He proudly said he was coordinating with the defendant and his lawyers. And that`s against the oath he`s going to take which is to be an impartial juror. And then Lindsey Graham chimed in. And we`ve had almost a continuous loop of quotes of senators that were around for the Clinton impeachment.
When there was agreement on the rules. There was an agreement on witnesses, and they were all in favor of that. And now they`re not. So, it`s totally political in that sense as John just pointed out.
It never made sense for Pelosi to send the articles of impeachment over for a quick death and at worst now, it`s going to be a slow death. We know the outcome. I don`t mean to be cynical, but I think we know the outcome unless you know God comes down from heaven and you get enough votes to convict him. I don`t think the senators that are worried about that are going to be worried enough to do that they`re more fearful of what Trump can do to them as is the entire Republican caucus.
So, rather than commit suicide there is going to be time and everybody understands, you don`t have to be a lawyer. You only need to watch reruns of Law and Order to know that you put on witnesses at trial and they`re cross-examined, and each side has their witnesses. So, the idea of getting the witnesses now is front and center, it`s before people they understand it and it looks unfair.
MELBER: Well, John Flannery would argue because I know him well enough to say this that the other thing in common with law and order here is that the defendant is always guilty. Defense--
MELBER: You know the defense lawyers--
FLANNERY: But in this case, he is guilty.
MELBER: You feel that way. I`m not going to prejudge. Let me bring Hayes, and I`ll come back to you. Go ahead, Margaret.
CARLSON: Ari, can I just tell you the first DA in law and order was named what Adam Schiff.
MELBER: Is that right? And Fred Thompson was in law and order and he was counsel.
CARLSON: He was the second.
FLANNERY: And Schiff would better be a manager and they should have a tough team because they should be more like defense attorneys with a biased tribunal because that`s what they are facing.
MELBER: I feel like we`re three drinks into the most political Christmas dinner ever with a little Law and Order and a little bit of the Red Queen. I mean--
MELBER: Well, the other piece--
FLANNERY: I think it was good.
MELBER: The other piece to this Hayes is that I should mention to be very clear. The defense lawyers I know, they hate on law and order, the defendants always--
BROWN: For sure.
MELBER: Guilty. A smaller point. But you`ve been tracking this as well with regard to the instruments of U.S. power.
MELBER: Foreign policy something that is supposed to be stopping at the water`s edge, nonpartisan ideally and this President stands accused in all seriousness of extorting a foreign power. With the Pentagon Javelin missile level commander-in-chief power to get reelected. Where does that fit into this in your view as Americans watch a trial whether or not they know what`s going to happen. That is the case.
BROWN: That is the case and I think that that`s what you saw Adam Schiff towards the end of the House process really try to push forward on the American people that it`s not just about politics, it`s not just about we don`t like President Trump, it`s about the fact that if we allow him to do this, allow him to make the argument. No, this is just policy, this is just how things work. Like you saw Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney tried to do during his disastrous press conference at the White House that this is just all normal and fine.
Then we are giving something up. We`re giving up the leverage that we have with other countries to say this is the right way to behave. And in Schiff`s closing argument he spoke extemporaneously for like seven minutes without notes and he retold the story of Andriy Yermak who is one of President Zelensky of Ukraine`s top aides.
And in this story Kurt Volker, who is a former ambassador to help out with Ukraine, he was telling Yermak, please do not investigate your political rivals and Yermak responds but like you want us to do with the Biden`s. And when Schiff heard that apparently, it just struck him to his core.
So, you have a lot of Republicans who say that you`re just trying to impeach a president over his foreign policy. You don`t like the way he does things. You don`t like that he doesn`t like foreign aid and in trying to make that the case, they`re willfully ignoring the fact that yes, he did attempt to get these political favors out of a president who is indebted to him. And when they hold up President Zelensky saying, oh, I felt no pressure. They are willfully ignoring the fact that a person who is being asked for a bribe is not usually very willing to come forward and say like, I`m being asked for a bribe, I`m being extorted.
So, they say, the Democrats - I have to say that the President of Ukraine is a liar in order to believe this. Yes, sometimes in a case like this you don`t want to say what is really happening. And the fact that they are just willing to put this blanket over and it is just shocking.
MELBER: Well, John can you speak to that point. I mean that`s when there are cases proven in real courts of extortion often the person extorted was initially going along with it precisely because they felt threatened one way or the other.
FLANNERY: Yes, that`s true. Also, we do have correspondence and conversations particularly with senators in September when the clock was ticking as to whether the money would be lost by the end of the month, the fiscal year. And it was on or about the 9th or the 10th that Zelensky told senators that the money was being held up and that he was in this squeeze.
So, I don`t believe they had that testimony public at the hearing. But that is the statement. And senators have confirmed that, and it`s been reported. And that a trial in the Senate, you don`t have to limit yourself to the witnesses that you had before. But I wouldn`t go gallivanting around looking to bring some person who hasn`t been testified before isn`t materially relevant to the center case that the Democrats have.
MELBER: Right. Well, the question - and that`s what we`re watching and we`ve been reporting on the question, what is the relevance if the Senate wants to take this seriously or a few senators decide wait a minute in good conscience for all of American history when they stare down that oath, we do need to hear from someone.
I`ve got to fit in a break partly because it`s a special show. John on a personal legal note, we have the legendary Bob Fiske making his Beat debut.
FLANNERY: Oh! My boss. My former boss. He`s terrific.
MELBER: Quite a figure.
MELBER: Yes. So, I`m going to fit in a break. I want to wish a very Happy Friday to John Flannery, Margaret Carlson and Hayes Brown, thanks to each of you. Appreciate you guys.
FLANNERY: Season`s Greetings.
MELBER: There you go. Coming up, we`re going to fact-check some of these claims about the witnesses testifying. New information that might be interesting to you then Giuliani`s flight on that private jet linked to an oligarch at the heart of this scandal and something special as we head into the holiday weekend. Later tonight, the great artists, Yasiin Bey, you may know him as Mos Def walks me through what you see here his new art installation at the Brooklyn Museum and a big surprise in some politics in that interview as well. All that ahead on this special edition of THE BEAT on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORDON SONDLAND, AMBASSADOR TO THE EUROPEAN UNION: Mr. Giuliani. President Trump. Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Perry, Chief of Staff Mulvaney, a lot of senior officials, everyone was in the loop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Trump`s Ambassador famously implicating everyone in this Ukraine plot which got Trump impeached and yet all those key people are still hiding from testifying. Bolton, Pompeo, Giuliani, Mulvaney who actually blames Trump his boss for his own silence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump has said that he`d like to see you and Secretary Pompeo testify in the Senate, will you?
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: And part of me really wants to, we`ll do whatever the President wants us to do is what it comes down to. So, if the Senate decides to take live witnesses, the President directs us to do it. We will if. If it directs not to, we won`t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Whatever he directs and congressional Republicans have relied on that defiance complaining in the House about the lack of fact witnesses and now of course pushing for a Senate trial notice this without any fact witnesses. And more than any other issue, Democrats core demand for a Trump trial now boils down to something Marvin Gaye asked so long ago, can I get a witness. Or as the Rolling Stones put it, can I get a witness. Or as the Canadian singer SonReal put it in his 2016 song, can I get a witness.
But one point here is clearly people asked for witnesses a lot and if you don`t usually see trials without them that may remind you that this is a basic part of any fair trial. But tonight, we want to dig into another piece of this, which is for most of these Trump officials testifying before Congress as a witness trial or not is not only important for fact finding. It is a job requirement literally.
Take Mike Pompeo who Sondland said was in the loop and who has defied these probes. He is of course Secretary of State. So, remember like all people in both parties who`ve held this job, he has a constitutional duty to face Congress as a witness even on matters far less important than this new trial to potentially remove the President from office.
In fact, we checked Pompeo himself testified at least six times already as Secretary of State.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Senator Menendez, as well.
I appreciate you having me here today. I look forward to our conversation. Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today. Thanks for the opportunity to discuss the administration`s FY2020 budget. I want to just walk through now, two years of the administration I`m now nine days short of one year of my time as Secretary of State. Thank you, Senator Cordon. Thank you, Senator Feinstein. Thanks for the opportunity to be here. I`m really happy to be. This is an important issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Happy to do it. As you can see, he does this on the regular testifying on routine matters like there the budget or oversight of national security, but then zero times, zero times has he ever as you see testified about this Ukraine impeachment scandal.
What you`re looking at on the screen are the inverted priorities of this Trump State Department and Democrats say what you are looking at is in that big zero circumstantial evidence of Pompeo in on the cover up and some of this may have gotten lost in all of the impeachment fighting, but Congress is a coequal branch.
Cabinet officials have a duty to testify. They could be forced to which is part of why so many Trump officials have faced Congress even as the president talks up defiance. And maybe it looks a little guilty for the administration argue they could testify under oath and everything else, but the conduct that got him impeached. And this fight, let me be clear is not over.
The issue of these official`s testimony will come up in the Senate trial because senators have the power to request witnesses right in the middle in fact in Clinton`s trial there was a vote to make these three people come back and testify again.
Today`s argument would be stronger for witnesses who never testified in the first place. Take Attorney General Barr. He`s faced Congress on other issues just like Pompeo and he`s faced the press publicly denying, he talked about anything relating to the Biden`s or his son with Trump, call notes showed Trump pledged Barr would help out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the president ask you to publicly defend him regarding the Ukrainian call? And if so, why did you not want to do that?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: If you`re talking about you know press reports that he asked me to have a news conference. The fact is I don`t remember any such request.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I don`t remember. Not a full denial. But if Barr and Giuliani can make even partial denials on TV, they`ve already waived any right to legal privilege on those topics and Congress has the power to compel these statements under oath. Tribal forces people under oath precisely for that purpose to get to the truth with teeth. And there`s then of course this other allegation that undid Richard Nixon.
Democrats arguing the crime and cover up is continuing consider the reports about Rudy Giuliani lying back to Ukraine pushing this same plot. This picture going viral of Giuliani in line at the airport to board a recent flight to Ukraine complemented by a new report from Buzzfeed`s Christopher Miller exposing the Giuliani returned from that trip on a pricey private jet linked to a Putin Ukrainian oligarch who is essentially now under house arrest, a man named Dmytro Firtash.
So, take it all together and you could see the questions come into view. Why won`t Giuliani just say who`s funding his work? Why were his clients indicted? Why does that oligarch appear to want Trump reelected? Why won`t Barr give his impeachment denial under oath? Why will Pompeo testify six times but never once about this Ukraine plot? And while we`re at it, why doesn`t the White House want witnesses to defend them?
If you want to follow the facts. all these questions though they clearly circle back to the original question. Can I get a witness?
We`re going to get into all of this in 30 seconds with the reporter who broke the Giuliani story and an esteemed former federal judge.
MELBER: We`re back with reporter Christopher Miller, who reports from Ukraine and broke this recent story about Giuliani`s link to that embattled oligarch. And I`m thrilled to be rejoined by Harvard Law`s Nancy Gertner, a federal judge appointed by President Clinton. One of only two women to win the American Bar Association`s Thurgood Marshall Award along with Justice Ginsburg. Not too shabby. Good day to both of you.
NANCY GERTNER, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: Good day.
MELBER: Judge and Professor, I would ask you first the importance of these witnesses in the context of those who are in the cabinet and have a duty to testify anyway.
GERTNER: Well, first of all, the Constitution doesn`t say much about what this is supposed to look like. But it does use language that it does say the impeachment is to be tried in the Senate and elsewhere in the Constitution, we know what a trial is supposed to look like. And it says that the senators are supposed to take an oath above and beyond their oath to the Constitution that they take when they are elected. So, this is an oath of impartiality, but the precise rules are the rules that are determined by the Senate. And one of the things--
MELBER: I mean ongoing even beyond - I`m just going to jump in to say beyond those rules. There is a coequal branch power to make current official testify that`s even beneath that.
GERTNER: But there`s no question about that. There`s no question that when someone like Mulvaney says if the Senate calls us as witnesses, we`re going to wait to hear from the President is extraordinary. I mean it`s one thing to talk about that in court but to talk about that before the Senate is itself extraordinary. The other thing what I was trying to say is that you know there are actually four or five moderate senators who can determine what the rules of this proceeding could be.
GERTNER: If asked and they could demand a fair proceeding and they could demand that these witnesses be called people like Mitt Romney and Murkowski and Collins, Booker. Gardner sorry Cory Gardner with numbers of people who could change--
MELBER: Right. I mean that goes--
GERTNER: Tenure of this.
MELBER: And that goes to how this is going to work. There`s a snap judgment in Washington focusing on McConnell out of habit as you say and as I think people are starting to learn unlike some other things, it`s whoever gets to 51, if a few of those folk`s caucus to the Democrats around say--
GERTNER: That`s right.
MELBER: A single witness like what I just mentioned there. Attorney General Barr making a sort of vague denial and then there`s the fact that throughout recent history there has been a lot of pressure on the idea that people should testify before Congress that you don`t want executive covering it up. Fox News analysts used to say that. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: American survivors of the attacks in Benghazi Libya on 9/11 of last year are being told by the Feds to keep quiet.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): They haven`t provided the basics about Benghazi. This is just an unacceptable way for the executive branch to behave.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The accusations that the president`s people are making threats against Benghazi witnesses.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To get to the truth, you`ve got to have all the information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GERTNER: And that`s different. And that`s an ordinary investigation. This is in a constitutional trial and the Constitution talks about a trial. So, there`s much more - there`s much greater rationale to have real witnesses come and testify. But it really has to be said McConnell does not control this process. This is a 51-vote situation, impeachment is 66 votes. But this is only 51.
MELBER: Yes. Let me bring in Christopher. Welcome back from Ukraine.
CHRISTOPHER MILLER, CONTRIBUTOR, "BUZZFEED": Thank you for having me.
MELBER: You had a scoop that apparently this has a linkage for Giuliani that they were otherwise putting out. What can you tell us?
MILLER: Well, I mean regarding Giuliani and his links in Ukraine I mean you saw his trip over there where he made quite a wave or splash in Kiev while keeping a relatively low profile. Myself and several other journalists were unable to actually track him down, but we kept a very close eye on his whereabouts, and I think what was most interesting for us was the people he was meeting and just whom he is connected to over there.
A lot of the people that he is asking for evidence to back his Ukraine campaign or pretty dodgy characters in Ukraine. Anybody who has spent as much time over there is myself and I`ve been over there reporting and working for a decade now. I can tell you that these are former prosecutors and former officials and current parliamentarians that do not have the best reputations and many of them are connected to corruption themselves.
MELBER: Yes, and you`re putting it relatively measured.
MELBER: We would just put some of the footage up of him speaking with some of these folks. This is from OAN, a very conservative site to the Right. The Fox News, and that`s I believe Shokin and this meeting and all of this stuff of the Ukrainian prosecutors over the purpose of dirtying up Biden, if he remains an opponent of Trump. What does it tell you that they were trying to hide the link to this very pricey jet?
MILLER: Well, Giuliani came in on a commercial airliner on this budget airline. You know that that seemed to be sort of a way of staying above board. It was transparent in the sense that some of his colleagues did tell us reporters that they were coming in.
MELBER: But you know what it reminds me of?
MILLER: What`s that?
MELBER: You know the rapper Future, Future Hendricks.
MELBER: When he says you came in a car, but you leave on a jet. The idea being that if you hang out with Future, you might get to be on his private jet.
MILLER: Right. Right.
MELBER: Although he`s not accused of election meddling. What does it tell us if anything that Giuliani comes on cheap flight and then leaves on this very dodgy person linked jet? I mean do you think there is a prospect here that these oligarchs are funding this whole effort and is potentially illegal.
MILLER: I think this is the big question just how Giuliani`s campaign is being funded. And if you look at the characters that he`s hanging around with in Ukraine and the connections that this jet does show us, right. The owner of this jet is actually an American with Ukrainian roots. Alexander Rofe, and he`s here in New York, but he is tied very closely through business dealings with Dmytro Firtash.
MELBER: Which we mentioned.
MILLER: It`s really dodgy.
MELBER: And that`s a major story, so interesting which is why I want to get you on your first time on the show. I`ve got to fit in a break, but I would love to keep an eye on your reporting and get you back in here whether you`re in New York or Kiev. And Judge Gertner, thanks to you as well. We didn`t - I didn`t have time to get you on the jet analogy, but maybe we`ll get you back again as the Senate trial unfolds. My thanks to both of you. Happy Friday.
GERTNER: I want that jet.
MELBER: Who wouldn`t. Up ahead, as promised the legendary SDNY prosecutor helping us to understand the related Giuliani probe and also how he came to convict the mobsters depicted in the new Irishman movie.
MELBER: Democrats big argument this week is that the historic impeachment shows abusing power and election cheating has consequences. That`s certainly true for Trump who`s now facing a potentially humiliating trial. What about the others in the plot? Many aspects do remain under investigation and the parallel probe in the famed Southern District of New York where prosecutors already indicted two Ukrainian linked clients of Giuliani who is now under investigation by the office he used to run. And that`s an elite group of prosecutors who`ve actually run this famously independent southern district like Giuliani, Comey, Bharara and Bob Fiske, our exclusive guest making his debut on THE BEAT tonight.
Fiske started in the office in 1957 rising to serve as the SDNY U.S. Attorney before Giuliani when President Ford appointed Fiske in 1976, a time when New York was increasingly and famously dangerous. We should note Fiske led the big fight against organized crime investigating charging and locking up some notorious criminals like mobsters. Tony Provenzano of the Genovese mafia, one of the five families to Anthony Scotto of the Gambino family to the Harlem drug lord Nicky Barnes, who was a flashy and feared gangster once known as Mr. Untouchable until Fiske`s FDNY convicted him and sent him to prison for over two decades.
Fiske`s reputation for integrity also led him to an appointment as sort of Bob Mueller of his day. He was named independent counsel for the Clinton Whitewater probe, the predecessor to Ken Starr.
Former SDNY U.S. Attorney Bob Fiske is our exclusive guest tonight. Thank you for being here.
BOB FISKE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Glad to be here.
MELBER: When you ran that office then as now it deals with a lot of big stuff when they are investigating something that may or may not relate to Washington or get extra attention. How does that affect the case, how does it work?
FISKE: Well, I think one of the great things about the office historically has been totally apolitical, prosecutorial decisions are made without regard to politics and the hiring of the assistant U.S. attorneys has done totally on the merits without regard to any political affiliation. So, basically, we had a case we just went out and did our job.
MELBER: Did it surprise you to see this current U.S. attorney take on lawyers be it the President`s lawyer which is controversial, Mr. Cohen is now incarcerated or a lawyer who had antagonized the President and Michael Avenatti?
FISKE: Well, I have a very high regard for this personally. This President of U.S. Attorney Jeff Berman. He started his career working with me at Davis Polk and I`ve known him a long time. Doesn`t surprise me at all that he would just do his job and if the case comes along and it deserves to be investigated, he`ll do it.
MELBER: I`ve got to ask you a question that you might think is a basic or silly. Did you or any of your team ever get scared because to normal people when you look at the type of cases from national security, New York as a terror target, terrorists, mobsters, a lot of people would think that sounds like scary stuff to go after.
FISKE: Well, I prosecuted as you indicated personally drug lord Nicky Barnes, Anthony Scotto. I always felt that people if were sensible about it, there was no future in threatening or knocking off a prosecutor because you would just get another one and then you`ve got another problem on your hands besides the original charge. So, I comforted myself with that rationale for four years.
MELBER: Mr. Fiske, that`s a very calm and even way to think about it. We mentioned some of those. I`d like to get into this. A lot of this is back in the news right now. You talk about Russell Bufalino, one of the most notorious mobsters in American history. He`s actually portrayed by Joe Pesci in this new much talked about Netflix movie The Irishman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want you to meet my cousin, Russell Bufalino.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, nice to meet you. Better watch this, there is a lot of tough guys around here, didn`t he tell you. Not afraid of tough guys, are you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Only two people in the world have one of these. And only one of them is Irish. I have one. Angelo has one. Now, you have one. It`s going to happen. Either way, he`s going.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Did they get it right?
FISKE: We convicted him.
MELBER: Do you think these movies sometimes make mobsters look too cool and good?
FISKE: Yes. Glamorized them.
MELBER: Nothing glamorous about what they were really doing.
FISKE: Right. They glamorize them unnecessarily.
MELBER: And people watch this film. They have open questions about Jimmy Hoffa. Do you think there are still open questions there?
FISKE: Everybody does.
MELBER: But the film, it leaves you with the distinct impression although the facts have never been fully established as lawyers would say that he was murdered by the mob.
FISKE: That`s certainly what everyone is assuming.
MELBER: What do you think.
FISKE: I don`t have any personal knowledge.
MELBER: No. But you have a lot of experience. One other part I want to show you briefly. The Irishman ends of course with Bufalino and Robert De Niro`s character Frank Scheer and there they are like so many of these people that you dealt with, that you prosecuted they end up old and in prison.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never wanted if you go that path. I picked us over him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We see this sad portrayal of these men who had money, power and other things but ultimately their lives caught up with them. I wonder if you think it`s important that the public see and understand the consequences.
FISKE: Absolutely. And they do.
MELBER: And most of these guys they wind up dead or in jail.
FISKE: Absolutely. And that`s been the record in the Southern District ever since. I mean lots of mob figures after I was there were prosecuted and went to jail as well.
MELBER: My final question for you is really big picture, folks watching can see what a legal legend you are and the work you`ve done. There are a lot of people in the country who look at where America is, and they`re concerned that the rules aren`t being applied or the rule of law is in danger.
What do you say to them? What do you say to the people who might be the next generation of lawyers or might say, it`s not worth even bother?
FISKE: That`s an easy question. I have enormous faith in the system, and I have an enormous faith in the U.S. attorneys around the country that are doing their job. And I think they`re doing their job just as effectively now as they ever had. And I think the public should have great confidence in that.
MELBER: And you think whether it`s asking why are these other officers that are unbowed.
FISKE: Absolutely. Well, I can certainly speak for the Southern District and I think that`s true of every other office that I know of.
MELBER: Mr. Bob Fiske as you know and some of our viewers are about to learn, I`ve wanted you on THE BEAT for a very long time and I`m really glad you joined us tonight.
FISKE: Thank you. I`m very glad to be here.
MELBER: Thank you, sir.
FISKE: Thank you.
MELBER: So much to think about there. Now when we come back, my exclusive interview with Yasiin Bey live from the Brooklyn Museum on the Trump era. Some of his most political lyrics and a whole lot more.
MELBER: The end of the year always brings some reflection on what happened, 2019 is the year that brought in a new Congress, the most diverse ever. Of course, it brought impeachment this week, the first ever for an elected President in his first term. It also brought Lori Lightfoot`s election as Mayor of Chicago, now the largest American city led by a woman. She also happens to be openly gay and the shifts weren`t just in politics, you know according to new 2019 streaming music data, Drake has displaced THE BEATles with 28 billion music streams while Billie Eilish is now one of the most popular artists of the year. The 18-year-old newcomer racking up 6 billion music streams, which shows how apps are upending the music business and our whole culture, which brings us to a special story tonight, an exclusive interview with artist Yasiin Bey.
He performed as the rapper Mos Def and we get into how Bey is confronting this world whereas I just showed you so much culture is moving online. He`s releasing his new music offline only, you can`t get it on an app or even at a record store, it is strictly limited to distribution through his new audio visual art exhibit, Negus at the Brooklyn Museum, so people can only hear it there, not on Spotify or Apple et cetera.
Now, we`ve just got to sit down at this exhibit and here was Bey`s concise explanation of his new approach.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YASIIN BEY, RAPPER: My proposal so to speak is that, art is not just a fine art to use a phrase is not limited or restricted solely to, what you`re going to hang on a wall or that it includes music as well.
I had a strong feeling that it needed to be a more dynamic experience than simply downloading it from a device. And it`s a meditative reflective sort of experience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Experience. There are of course many ways to experience culture and other experiences and this exhibit certainly does slow you down into really focusing on the music and art. You see Yasiin here when he showed us around. We also discussed some of his work including his iconic album Black on Both Sides, which has many political themes relevant today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Can I read a little mathematics?
MELBER: Or do you want to read?
BEY: It can be at this time.
MELBER: It`s a numbers game but don`t add up somehow. Like I got 16 to 32 bars to rocket but only 15 percent of profits ever seen my pockets. 16 ounces to a pound, 20 more to a key, a five-minute sentence hearing and you`re no longer free.
BEY: Here`s some observations there.
MELBER: But now you`ve got mainstream, you even have some Republicans saying yes, five minutes, years taken out of people`s lives. We`ve got to revise this.
BEY: Yes, definitely it was commenting and remarking on the world that I saw around me from I think a fairly unique sharp perspective growing up in New York City. I got access to a lot of powerful vibrations and some stark realities as well you know the singular type of experience to say the least.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Music can open our eyes to other people`s experiences, I think we all know that I got to ask Bey about another one of his famous tracks from that same album which pushes listeners to try to enter the experience of a successful black man who finds racism warp as he becomes more prominent. The double standards don`t defer to his success, but just reposition around it. I even brought some of the lyrics to the interview and in a surprise you`re about to see, Bey ended up wrapping them himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I`m thinking about another song here that really holds up. I`m only going to say it a certain way, but-- N-word.
MELBER: So, I brought these lyrics too, because they hold up. I`m only doing it in a certain way.
BEY: You`ve got rap genes. Let me see what you`ve got.
MELBER: Or you can do it. This is incredible stuff.
BEY: OK. They action reveal how their hearts really feel. Like, late night I`m on a first-class flight. The only brother in sight, the flight attendant catch fright. I sit down in my seat, 2C. She approaches officially, talking about, "Excuse me". Her lips curl up into a tight space because she doesn`t believe that I`m in the right place. Showed her my boarding pass, and then she sorts of gasped. All embarrassed, put an extra lime on my water glass. An hour later here she come by, walking past. I hate to be a pest, but my son would love your autograph.
Yes, that`s pretty funny. It`s based on actual experience. But you know, it`s very interesting. It`s a quote from a childhood friend of mine, says black, it`s white, it`s money, it`s all an equal. The adjectives can never be nouns. We are the people.
MELBER: Because you stay in the - people try to keep you in that box, even when you transcend.
BEY: If I know what which genealogy is or where you`re from, I know something about you but I don`t know you and I can`t pretend to know a person just because I know something about them or reduce them to just like a set of like scientific responses. And it`s ridiculous. I mean you know someone`s skin color, it`s like people saying they know people with acne are bad people. We`re human beings you know. I mean it seems like being a racist is really labor intensive and just kind of draining.
BEY: Yes, not very rewarding. See a lot of joy racist. You know what I`m saying like, hey, let`s go hate today. They`re not afraid.
MELBER: Even when they have the tiki torches.
BEY: They just don`t feel like they generally having a really good time.
MELBER: Well, you know they say that`s the difference between if you`re ever at the - like at the hardware store and if someone`s getting like four tiki torches. That`s a dinner party. But if you see him buying like 20 tiki torches that`s like anti-Semitic, anti-Black hate rally.
BEY: That is sad.
MELBER: That`s how you know. If it`s too many.
BEY: What do you guys--
MELBER: What are you doing later?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Too many tiki torches. Watch out for that. Now finally I`ve got to ask this famously conscious musician about today`s political moment. And he had a response that after this long week and maybe this long year marks something of our last word tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: A lot of people in America are obviously dispirited about leadership and government politics.
BEY: Do not be dismayed. You know you are here as it is an opportunity to do something beautiful today, should be great today as great as you can. You know personal best, be as it says an opponent - to be cheerful. Strive to be happy. It`s life. Dead or alive, life is good to me, so my dear child, make it. I know that you can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: It`s been quite the week as you know and it`s not over. There is a lot more happening tonight. We also want to tell you about what`s happening this weekend. We have our first impeachment special this Sunday night 9 PM Eastern, since of course the President has been impeached. The special has now been changed to the name, The Impeachment of Donald J. Trump. And among other things, I`ll be joined by noted historian Eric Foner, for a big picture look at how Donald Trump will be living with this history, the rest of his life and beyond.
So, I hope you join us 9 PM Eastern. I also see you back here. As always, you know where to find The Best. But don`t go anywhere right now, because Hardball with Chris Matthews is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Barricade, let`s play Hardball.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END